Republicans and Democrats are both divided on the Common CoCommonCorere educational standards. Some see a promising educational reform that will bring American public schools into the 21st century and prepare our students to compete in a global economy. Some see another set of new tests and new requirements that will over burden classroom teachers and over-emphasize standardized test scores. And a loud few see a communist plot to indoctrinate our children to join the nazi party… or something.

In this whirlwind of opinions, it’s easy to lose sight of what the Common Core actually is. Let’s start with what it isn’t. Despite claims to the contrary in a Florida , it isn’t “pornographic.” It’s also not an effort to convert your children to Islam, regardless of what some hill people in Tennessee think. It’s certainly not an effort by the United Nations to subvert American sovereignty under the dreaded “Agenda 21.” It isn’t embedded with the “seeds of socialism” and Hitler most certainly had nothing to do it its development.

So, with that out of the way, lets address what the Common Core Standards actually are. At the most basic, they’re an evidence-based set of expectations about the standard of knowledge and skill students should possess at various points during their education. The standards were established by a state led initiative of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Federal Government did not develop the standards, nor have they mandated state-level adoption.

The standards were developed by a diverse committee of teachers, parents, administrators, researchers and curriculum experts. They were designed to be rigorous, but attainable for students, and practical for schools. The standards are not a curriculum. They do not dictate what should be taught, or how. They merely identify where a student should be, academically, at a given point in time. In the states where the Common Core Standards have already been adopted, they have been modified in various ways, and locally relevant content has been added.

The idea is that by getting students on the same page, nation-wide, we’ll be better able to ensure that students are all ready for college or the workforce by the time they graduate, while also improving our ability to compete globally in the ever more interconnected economy. However, the implementation hasn’t been particularly smooth. New York has had a particularly rough start with Common Core. In their zeal to raise standards and improve student achievement, the state rushed implementation of significant new testing requirements, long before educators had much chance to adjust their curriculums and fully embrace the new style.

This rush to test, incidentally, runs counter to one of the initial goals of the new Common Core system. Part of what its developers hoped to achieve was a move away from the over-reliance on standardized tests, and a return to problem-solving and critical thinking over “teaching to the test” and rote memorization.

Because of implementation and assessment issues, the Common Core has lost a little of its luster with some educators and associations. However, if states can move forward in creative ways to embrace the new standards without relying so heavily standardized testing, the new standards may prove to be just the thing the American education system needs to compete in an increasingly globalized world.

Joshua Dieker is a BNR contributing writer, campaign consultant, community organizer and dad. Find him on twitter: @jdieker